Hominin evolution and diversity: a comparison of earlier-Middle and later-Middle Pleistocene hominin fossil variation in China. Academic Article uri icon


  • Historical views of Asia as an evolutionary 'backwater' are associated with the idea that Homo erectus experienced long periods of stasis and ultimately went extinct. However, recent discoveries of well-dated Middle Pleistocene hominin fossils in China have considerably challenged these ideas and provide sufficient data to propose a testable model that explains the patterning of variation in Middle Pleistocene China, and why it changed over time. A series of hominin fossil studies comparing earlier-Middle and later-Middle Pleistocene groups confirm that the expressions of certain traits shift around 300 ka. Fossils from the later Middle Pleistocene are more variable with a mix of archaic traits as well as ones that are common in Western Eurasian early Homo sapiens and Neanderthals. The period around 300 ka appears to have been a critical turning point for later-Middle Pleistocene morphological changes in China. It coincides with a phase of climatic instability in the Northern Hemisphere between Marine Isotope Stages 12 and 10 that would have led to changes in gene flow patterning, and regional population survival/extinction. This localized and testable model can be used for future explorations of hominin evolution in later Pleistocene eastern Eurasia. This article is part of the theme issue 'The impact of Chinese palaeontology on evolutionary research'.

published proceedings

  • Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci

altmetric score

  • 48.25

author list (cited authors)

  • Liu, W. u., Athreya, S., Xing, S., & Wu, X.

citation count

  • 2

complete list of authors

  • Liu, Wu||Athreya, Sheela||Xing, Song||Wu, Xiujie

publication date

  • March 2022